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“In the years following World War II, Reinhold Hanning had enjoyed a relatively normal life in Germany. He looked on as many of his superiors during wartime, including high-ranking Nazi Party officials stationed at Auschwitz, were convicted in the Nuremberg trials from 1945 to 1949 for their crimes against humanity. But Hanning, a former SS guard, was not considered a high-profile war criminal, so he was never indicted.
That is, until three years ago. In accordance with Germany’s lifted statute of limitations for the prosecution of war criminals, Hanning, who was then 94 years old, found himself face-to-face with justice in June of 2016 when he was charged with 170,000 counts of murder—approximately the number of people who died during his tenure as a sergeant at the death camp.
But proving Hanning was an accomplice to murders that occurred 70 years ago—in a crime scene that has since been destroyed, along with almost all pertinent records—was a tall order. Contributing to the morass was Hanning’s claim that he never personally witnessed victims being gassed to death. Prosecutors needed evidence to link Hanning to the charges in his indictment: monitoring arriving prisoners as they were sorted into groups headed directly into labor or the gas chambers, a process that came to be known as “selection.” Essentially, the court needed to travel back in time and see what Hanning saw, from the perpetrator’s vantage point.”
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